Though the façade of the downtown Napa building that once housed Fagiani’s bar is old, its latest owner seeks to make it look older – and take its styling all the way back to its original state.
On Thursday, city historic preservation officials will have a look at an overhaul of the vacant bar and restaurant building at 813 Main St. The latest plans call for removing the wide bands of maroon and blue ceramic tile that have wrapped across its street-level door and windows since 1945 – but that also contrast sharply with the architecture of the rest of the building, which opened more than a century ago.
In a notice published Nov. 29, the city Planning Division announced that the owner intends to remove the tiling and bring its entire storefront in line with the building’s appearance on its debut around 1908.
That step will require support from the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission, which will vote Thursday night whether to grant a certificate of appropriateness for the work – a necessity because the Fagiani’s building is on Napa’s historic resource registry.
City planning officials, in a memorandum to the heritage commission, came down in favor of the building’s earlier, Renaissance Revival architecture as the true source of the site’s importance.
“The tile work is not an exemplary specimen and the significance of the tile is mostly derived from the Fagiani family who installed the tile,” wrote senior planner Karlo Felix. “The retention of the tile is not necessary to convey this significance and removal of the tile allows the structure’s historic relationship to Main Street to resume.”
Instead of tiles framing the existing, narrow horizontal windows, Fagiani’s façade would be decked in wood paneling with large, sliding metal-frame windows, with a third door added to the storefront’s south end to join the two existing entrances. In addition, a metal trellis supporting a retractable fabric awning would be added to the third-floor patio, an addition approved by the city in 2013 but never installed before the Ninebark restaurant, its most recent occupant, closed last year.
The latest proposal includes two interpretive plaques, each 12 by 16 inches, that would be displayed on the Fagiani building’s outer columns. The plaques would include summaries of the building’s role as home to its namesake bar, which Nicola Fagiani founded in 1945 and later was operated by his daughters Anita Andrews and Muriel Fagiani.
Fagiani’s closed after the 1974 stabbing murder of Andrews inside the tavern, a crime that went unsolved for 37 years. The building remained locked until 2007, when Andrews’ sister Muriel Fagiani and her nieces sold it to developer Steve Hasty.
The property’s mixture of styles and eras later became the subject of intense, often bitter debate in 2010, as Hasty prepared to renovate the building for a restaurant that would become its first occupant since Andrews’ murder.
Hasty submitted plans with the city that kept the design elements of both eras, while adding a new top floor to the original two. But the Planning Commission rejected the design as a clumsy mishmash of styles and demanded that Hasty recast the storefront entirely in a 1910 idiom.
Outraged, Hasty launched a “Free Fagiani’s” movement, complete with buttons and a Facebook page, that attacked commissioners as overreaching their authority. In November 2010, the City Council overturned planners’ veto and let the tile-clad exterior remain.
The long-dormant storefront finally reopened in August 2012 as The Thomas restaurant, with a bar named Fagiani’s at The Thomas.
AvroKO, the hospitality group, closed The Thomas and replaced it with a new eatery, Ninebark, headed by a different chef. Ninebark announced a “temporary” closure in July 2016 but has remained dark since.
Joe Wagner, member of a longtime Napa wine family and the owner of Copper Cane Wines and Provisions, bought the Main Street building from Hasty for $3.7 million in February 2016, five months before the restaurant shut down.